How to Write an Exemplum
It’s quite easy to include exempla in your writing – as long as you really know your subject! Just keep an eye out for generalizations, and try to pin them down with a well-chosen exemplum.
The last few decades have seen increasing globalization.
The last few decades have seen increasing globalization, as seen in the rise of the U.N., E.U., and other multinational diplomatic bodies, as well as in the rise of transnational corporations such as Sony and Coca-Cola
Educational video games can be fun to play.
Educational video games, such as the immensely popular Oregon Trail, can be fun to play.
Writing an extended moral exemplum is a little harder. Naturally, it only exists at the level of whole stories, not individual sentences, so it takes a lot more advance planning. But the steps for writing a moral exemplum are as follows:
- Choose a moral theme. It should be either a principle you really believe in, or something you’re curious about exploring (that way the process of writing will be more interesting to you). This could be anything: honesty, loyalty, courage, betrayal, selfishness, greed – any moral concept.
- Think about the consequences. In “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” the basic moral idea is that if you lie, people will not believe you when you need them to. Every moral idea can be thought of in terms of its consequences this way.
- Write a beginning, middle, and end. Like all stories, a moral exemplum should have a beginning-middle-end structure. The beginning sets the stage and introduces the characters; the middle introduces a problem, conflict, or danger; and the end shows what happens as a result of that conflict.
When to Use Exemplum
In formal arguments and speeches, you should always be ready to deploy an example. When people are unpersuaded or confused by an argument, they’ll often say, “For example, what?” You can anticipate this question by using examples strategically at any point that you think is likely to provoke doubt or confusion.
Again, it’s important to remember than an exemplum is not a proof. Just because you have produced an example of a general statement does not mean you’ve proven that this general statement holds true in other cases. However, when disproving a general statement, one exemplum is often sufficient. If someone says, for example, that all tribal cultures have been traditionally ruled by men, you can give the ancient Hopi, the Celts of western Ireland, or the native Hawaiians, which all traditionally had a woman as their chief, as exempla.
Moral exemplum, obviously, is not a technique that you can really use in a formal essay. However, it can be very useful in creative writing. It’s especially good as inspiration for short stories. If you’re stuck at the beginning of a story and don’t know what to write about, consider writing a story about a moral idea. This is often very interesting for readers, and it gives you as a writer a chance to work through some ideas as you write.